Previous studies have investigated how yoga affects quality of life for women with breast cancer—and whether incorporating a yoga routine can be considered a helpful part of treatment. But the majority of such work has been small in terms of the number of people in the studies, and not well-controlled in design.
Now a new study aims to extend this work. The longitudinal, randomized controlled study is evaluating how incorporating yoga during breast cancer treatment affects quality of life and cure rates for women with breast cancer. An interim analysis of 605 patients that reported quality-of-life scores after at least 1 year of either following a yoga routine or other conventional exercises was reported recently at the 2017 ASCO Annual Meeting (Abstract 527).
“One of the main differences between yoga and other forms of physical activity is that yoga exercises oppose violent muscle movement, which are common causes for fatigue, stiffness, and injury. On the contrary, they are designed to counteract fatigue through relaxation and breathing,” the study's lead author Nita S. Nair, MBBS, DNB, MRCSEd, Associate Consultant in the Department of Surgery at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, India, told Oncology Times.
The yoga exercises used by the patients in this study were carefully designed for the patients based on their phase of treatment and their recovery, Nair explained.
The study reported quality-of-life scores for the women with non-metastatic breast cancer who received standard treatment and regularly practiced yoga, as well as quality-of-life scores for the women with non-metastatic breast cancer who received standard treatment and regularly did conventional exercises. After 6-9 months, 52 percent of the women who practiced yoga showed improvements in quality of life across multiple indices compared to 42 percent of the women in the conventional exercise control group. Future analyses will measure quality-of-life scores across longer periods of follow-up, as well as cure rates after 5 years.
Nair further explained why these findings are significant—and what practicing oncologists can learn from the new research.
1 Other research has evaluated how yoga can help women with cancer—what is new about this study and its implications?
“The key findings of this current analysis suggest that yoga resulted in numerically better scores in all aspects of [quality of life], which reached statistical significance in domains related to fatigue, emotional score, and pain score.
“There have been numerous retrospective and prospective studies that have evaluated the impact of yoga on quality of life in women undergoing treatment for breast cancer—but none as robust. What is unique about this study is that this [one] is the first randomized controlled trial of this magnitude (850 women), which in addition to testing the impact of yoga on [quality of life] is also powered to evaluate the impact of yoga on cure rates.
“This is a longitudinal study measuring various phases of yoga during treatment and survivorship—with a comparative analysis of different time points and the response to yoga, which will help integrating yoga as a complementary modality. Also, this study will help identify the long-term and short-term effects of this therapy in breast cancer patients and survivors.”
2 This is an ongoing study. Can you explain what the next steps are and what you hope to better understand by the end of the project?
“This study is designed to evaluate the impact of yoga on breast cancer cure rates. We are scheduled to accrue 850 women (743 accrued at present) and follow them all up for a minimum of 5 years. All the available research on yoga and its impact in breast cancer focuses on the impact on [quality of life]. The impact on cure rates has never been addressed and still remains to be answered. We aim to answer that with this study.”
3 What are the immediate implications of this research that practicing oncologists and oncology care providers should know (and share with their patients)?
“Patients diagnosed with different types of cancer are behest with quality of life issues and treatment side effects. Hence, yoga as a complementary therapy can improve patient comfort and promote healing. Incorporating simple practices of yoga may prove to be beneficial for women on treatment for breast cancer.
“It is a low-cost, adaptable, complementary therapy that can be incorporated into a patient's treatment regime. While planning, a patient's ability to perform exercises, type of surgery, and type of treatment all need to be taken into account, so as to adjust the exercises and schedules to best suit them.”